A few years ago I read a short story, non-fiction for once, about people who are linchpins of social groups. Only that wasn't the word the author used. What he'd discovered was that there are individuals who bring together disparate groups of people. Often they are connected to several different classes of society -- through work, volunteering, school, neighborhood, interests and they have a way of bringing together people who otherwise wouldn't interact. They're sort of the Kevin Bacons of the real world. I bring this up because I was thinking today about one of them who isn't with us anymore.
Her name was Lisa. She died, way too young, around 30, from a pulmonary embolism. One moment here, walking into work, and the next moment, not. It was one of those horrible, awful please-tell-me-you're-making-some-kind-of-tasteless-joke times in my life that has, gratefully, been a rare experience. But it wasn't a joke. It was just awful.
Lisa wasn't a simple person, or an easy person to really know. She was complex and opinionated, loud and presented the world with an I-don't-give-a-damn-what-you-think attitude. I met her through my brother, who'd been a friend of hers at school. At first, we didn't get along. I'm not 100% sure why. She didn't like the movie Clerks. I thought it was hilarious. She called my brother a lot at inconvenient (for me) times and it irritated me. We rubbed each other the wrong way for no particular reason. And then, well, we got over it. We got together a few more times, in a large group -- usually of people who wouldn't have met otherwise -- and I enjoyed her company so much that we just forgave each other for whatever it was that had been bad and that was that. She was like that.
She was dramatic, and she was smart, and stubborn and funny as hell. I don't remember the things we laughed about, but I do remember laughing so hard with her once that she started to gasp "Stop! I can't see the road!" not because of tears, but some physiology of her face made her close her eyes when she started laughing that hard and she became a driving hazard. She would desperately take her thumb and forefinger and use them to pry her eye open so she could at least have some vision, which, of course, made us laugh even harder till I think she just pulled off the road. This happened more than once. Sometimes it happened because we started talking about a previous time that it had happened. It loses a great deal in translation, and I know that, but there it is.
Lisa was immensely frustrating sometimes. She was so smart, and so capable, but did things her way or not at all. I think it took a decade for her to finish a bachelor's degree. She held just about every kind of job imaginable, and would work at them with a passion until someone pissed her off enough that she would quit. She was against every kind of -ism you could name, and god help the person who made the careless racist remark in front of her. She went once to see something like Big Momma's House or Friday or some other movie like that, and sat through cat calls, and even one rather threatening "Look at the white girl, sittin' in the wrong the-a-ter!" But she stayed, and still would have decked anyone who implied that one race was better than any other. I admired that.
Once she hit her late 20s, her life kind of jelled, and she seemed to find her footing at last. She met the love of her life, and they married. She found a job doing social work, and every single bit of everything she'd ever done or learned just funneled right into what she did -- helping people put their lives back together and keep them that way -- and she was marvelous at it. She went back to school to get her Master's in Social Work. She was talking about starting a family.
And now she's gone.
She was the person I called after midnight after something stupid and rotten had happened to me, and she picked up and listened and was righteously indignant on my behalf and then said funny things till I laughed.
She wasn't my best friend, or my closest friend, and I often went months without seeing her, but she was the central connection to a lot of people who I really liked, and am now connected to only tangentially. A few are Facebook friends, but we never quite connect any more. The linchpin that held us is gone. I miss them.
I miss her. I think about her, if not every day, then at least every other day or so. More often than I think about most anyone else in my life I have lost.
So I decided to write about her today. When someone has that kind of impact on your life, she is worth writing about. I think she would approve.